Will Sanders' stance on Israel push Jewish voters toward Trump, despite all his negatives?

Some political dreams live on and on; Exhibit A being the late Harold Stassen.

Then there's the Republican Party's quadrennial hope of using hawkish support for Israel as a wedge issue to convince a majority of American Jews to back a GOP presidential candidate -- something that hasn't happened in nearly a century.

Well, here we are again, in another presidential campaign, and the dream's back on the table. Only this time, Republican leaders, who argue they understand Israel's security needs far better than do Democrat politicians, think they have a better shot at picking up the Jewish votes they covet.

Ironically, they're pinning their hopes on the first Jew to get within sniffing distance of snagging a major party's presidential nomination. That would be Sen. Bernie Sanders, of course.

This is a steadily building domestic and international story that's getting its appropriate elite media attention. The implications are potentially game-changing; for Democrats, U.S. foreign policy, Israel, and for an American Jewish community already divided -- generationally above all else -- over the right-wing Netanyahu government's handling of Palestinian demands.

Click here for a New York Times piece on the issue. Click here to see how the Washington Post handled it.

I've no major quarrel with either of those stories. Frankly, though, I've found the American Jewish media's handling of the issue more interesting and varied. Perhaps that's because it's simply better informed on the issue than are most mainstream news outlets, for whom this is just one more angle among a blizzard of campaign angles to follow.

Reporters: Take this as a reminder of the importance of following the religious and ethnic press. Don't rely solely on what the big guys say about a community's internal fissures.

Sanders' left-wing views on the stalemated Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been making a lot of establishment pro-Israel Democrats nervous for months. However, the issue went viral last week when the Vermont senator-- in a nod to the considerable support he has won during his primary battle with Hillary Clinton -- was allowed to name five members to the committee that will draft the Democratic convention's party platform.

His picks were viewed by many if not most mainstream Jewish leaders as hostile to Israel. That is to say, they see him being deeply sympathetic to the Palestinian side at the expense of Israel's security needs.

Sanders argues that his support for Palestinian concerns reflects the true feelings of most Democrats, Jewish or otherwise, while insisting he's also concerned about Israel's security. Click here for some Pew polling results on whether Sanders' claim that he's speaking for an emerging Democratic consensus rings true.

The news filled Jewish Republican media types with glee. Commentary ran an opinion piece by its senior online editor Jonathan Tobin under the headline, "The Party's Over for Pro-Israel Dems."

On the pro-Israel mainstream Democratic side, in contrast, a questioning gloom was apparent. Here's a piece by Forward editor Jane Eisner headlined, "If Bernie Sanders Has an Actual Plan for Israel and the Palestinians, He’d Better Say So Now."

But hold on there. Doesn't Republican Donald Trump have his own problems with the American Jewish community?

Yes he does, and they're not inconsequential. So don't be too quick to put the relatively small but important Jewish vote (think Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and other potentially pivotal states, plus Jewish campaign contributions) into the Republican column.

Trump's been contradictory on Israel, to say the least. For example, in February he said he'd approach the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from  a "neutral" place. But in March he insisted "there is no one who is more pro-Israel than I am." So which is it? Who can say for sure, and what does being "neutral" even mean in this context?

Plus there's his generally isolationist foreign policy and conservative domestic policy pronouncements, all anathema to the still decidedly liberal American Jewish majority.

Then there's the problem of anti-Semitism that's surfaced among some Trump supporters; remember the flap over David Duke?  Some of it has been directed at mainstream Jewish reporters and editors deemed by the Trump side to be hostile to their man.

The din has been loud enough that even Republican Jewish leaders have taken note. Among them is the Republican Jewish Coalition, generally a cheerleader for all things GOP. Note that the RJC is largely financed by Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas hotel and gambling mogul who is a prominent Trump financial backer.

And then there's this bit of political history. Hillary's husband, Bill Clinton, was enormously popular with Jewish voters (gaining about 80 percent of their votes both times he ran for president). This should help Hillary. There's something to be said for political loyalty, and Jewish loyalty to Democratic candidates is certainly well entrenched.

So what might we expect to happen?

Will Sanders aggressively push his Palestinian concerns on the Democratic convention floor, even if it means a party-wounding brawl that leaves Clinton, her party's likely presidential candidate, blooded at the start of the general election?

Here's two reasonable, I think, views on this; click here for The Forward and the click here for a piece at Foreign Policy.

In the mean time, fellow journalists, you might want to invest some time in interviewing a few Jewish Democrats who are not political movers and shakers. Ask them what they think about this. I predict they will have opinions.

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